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Darjeeling Express

Restaurants, Indian Soho
3 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(4user reviews)
Asma Khan at Darjeeling Express
Andy Parsons

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

An Indian restaurant on the top floor of Kingly Court in Soho.

Darjeeling Express started out life as a supper club in lawyer-turned-chef Asma Khan’s Kensington home, and this Kingly Court restaurant is its first permanent spot. The small plates draw on her Calcutta childhood: home-style food, cooked from family recipes.

Most of the beautifully balanced small plates are excellent. Let’s start with the very best: Indo-Chinese chilli garlic prawns. Luxuriously buttery, smoky and spiced with long, thin chillies; I’ve thought about these prawns more than I should like to admit since eating them.

Also lovely were fiery mutton cakes cut through with a delicate layer of mint and yoghurt. The mains, sadly, were less impressive. Both venison kofta and goat curry failed in the same way, with bland (albeit good quality) meat that hadn’t had a chance to absorb the flavours of the beautiful sauces.

One other disappointment was the space itself. Much is made on the website about the homeliness of the ethos – the kitchen is staffed by an all-women team, and a portion of the proceeds go towards promoting female equality in Darjeeling. But the bright, high-ceilinged room is a little stark. Perhaps Darjeeling Express just needs more time to bed in. A bit like that curry, which I knew would be amazing after a night in the fridge.

Details

Address: Top Floor
Kingly Court
London
W1B 5PW
Transport: Tube: Oxford Circus
Price: Dinner for two with drinks and service: around £70.
Contact:
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Users say (4)

4 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

3.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:0
  • 4 star:3
  • 3 star:1
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:0
LiveReviews|4
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Tastemaker

If you've had just about enough of 'small plates' you can look forward to a beloved and distinctly British tradition here of ordering a Main with a separate side, if you so please, and a starter if you're feeling particularly hungry. Of course that's where the British traditions end and the Indian rest begin. 

Puchkas are a must-try, a popular street snack in Calcutta, a sort of tiny poppadom shell with a spoonful of spiced chickpea mix within. Pour tamarind 'water' from a small jar into the shell and pop it into your mouth (whole, or at your outfits peril). A generous pile of lentil fritters came recommended by one of the all-female staff and were totally addictive; they felt like India's vegetarian answer to popcorn chicken.

It's rare that any dish other than the prawn variety will win me over in a setting like that but the Paneer Malaikari was surprisingly complex and velvety. I'd return simply to mop up another with the large craters of fried, buttery bread offered here.

It's worth noting that I had actually booked for the wrong date and the staff still managed to accommodate us whilst under pressure which is impressive in such a small spot.

tastemaker

The food here is delicious and it's a cute venue too, which is clean and simple.  It's a modern twist on Indian food and the dishes are innovative, but don't deviate too much.  The staff were very accommodating and attentive.  It is recommended to book as this place gets busy.

Tastemaker

We tried this restaurant on a busy, rainy Saturday evening and got a late table as it was a fairly last minute booking. I love the back story for the restaurant with it being all-women team of housewives that runs the kitchen and I had high hopes for the food, which did, indeed, turn out to be pretty tasty, with tangy, spicy, delicious flavours. I also thought the drinks menu was fairly priced and they had a delicious Rose on there, which we enjoyed.

Given the size of the restaurant and the lack of customers at that late hour, it wasn't as friendly and intimate as you'd hope from a family run place and I just didn't warm to it the way I have with my local Indian place. The staff were busy discussing the day's takings and chatting amongst themselves and the waitress tried to up-sell quite a bit, which felt a little 'Pizza Express'; so we did feel like just another tab, rather than welcome guests. I think a restaurant like this, should try to welcome its customers a little bit more and perhaps develop a bit of a loyal following. I know it's London, a big anonymous city, but there are definitely places I return to over and over again when I feel that I was treated well - after all you don't just go out to a place for the food, you go out for the atmosphere as well. 

tastemaker

With my parents in town several weeks ago, we decided to grab dinner as a family + with my best friend. So between the five of us, we shared the following:


Starters

  1. Chili Garlic Prawns – Almost like a South Asian version of the Spanish garlic prawns, a serving of this came with five pieces of prawn. They were already de-shelled and stir-fried with dried red chili and loads of garlic! I liked this because they were bite-size, flavourful, and really had a kick from that red chili.
  2. Mutton Shikampuri Kabab – These were so delicious we actually ordered two servings! Each came with two mutton patties that were stuffed with yogurt and fresh mint leaves, which complemented well with the patty. They were actually quite spicy so the centre helped to cool our mouths down with each bite. The patties were also really smooth and creamy, which surprised all of us but we really liked it!
  3. Puchkas – I’ve had this street food before at another Indian restaurant in London so I remembered that they had to be eaten in one mouthful. This is to prevent the tamarind water that you pour in from spilling out. It’s shaped perfectly so it can hold a decent amount of tamarind water in a single mouthful. In terms of flavour, it wasn’t as good as ones I’ve had previously but I did like that the shells were super crunchy.
  4. Papri Chaat – Probably my favourite starter because it had quite a unique flavour. These were actually served cold, which again, was different! I liked the thick and crunchy base mixed with the sweet and sour tamarind chutney on top and the freshness from the coriander leaves sprinkled on top. I’m not sure if this was supposed to be eaten in a single mouthful but that’s what I did to ensure I tasted all the flavours mixed together.
  5. Fried Lentil ‘Chicken’ – For the life of me, I cannot remember what this was actually called on the menu but it was our fifth starter. The reason I put chicken in inverted commas is because these bite-sized fried nuggets were actually made from lentils. They reminded me of KFC’s popcorn chicken but a vegetarian version. They were served with two dipping sauces: one was green chili and soy sauce-like and the other was a sweet tamarind paste.

Mains

  1. Methi Chicken – This pretty much tasted and looked like another Indian dish called, Butter Chicken, and it was heavenly! It was so rich and creamy but packed with flavour and spices. It wasn’t very spicy but had a nice tomato base and of course served with some spiced basmati rice.
  2. Venison Kofta – These meatballs were rather nice because it was something I’ve not come across before in Indian cuisine. They came in a nicely spiced gravy and one order came with five meatballs, which was perfect to share on our table. As it was a main, this also came with a bowl of spiced basmati rice.
  3. Hyderabadi Baghare Baigan – Probably my favourite among the mains we ordered. This was an aubergine curry and normally one of my favourite ways to eat aubergine – they were thick, creamy, and sticky in a delicious gravy. I liked that the slices of aubergine were cut large so you pull them apart and it did so so easily and it went really well with the basmati rice!

Sides

  1. Bulandshahr Roti – A serving of this came with four small pieces of roti and reminded me a lot of prata, which we get in Singapore. It was lovely to soak up the thick gravies from our mains but on its own, it didn’t carry much flavour. It was also a little tough to tear apart than normal.

Overall it was a pretty nice experience. I found the flavours of our dishes to be rich and very tasty, the spiciness level was bearable and authentic in my opinion, and the service was good. I’m glad we came for an early dinner, as it got more crowded as the evening went on and as a result, more noisy too. Would definitely recommend it as a restaurant for some comfort Indian food, if you’re in the area!

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